June 14th 2018
Just as he does every year during U.S. Open week, Bobby Farrell plans to showcase his grandfather's memorabilia at Tamarack Country Club in Greenwich, Conn. That would be the winner's gold medal, the scrapbook that his great-grandmother made and the hickory-shafted Ted Smith Model 7 putter that Johnny Farrell used to pull off one of the underappreciated victories in U.S. Open history.
Ninety years ago, “Handsome Johnny,” the pro from New York's Quaker Ridge Golf Club, sank an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole of a 36-hole playoff to beat Bobby Jones at Olympia Fields Country Club near Chicago and win his lone major championship.
"It was like going against Tiger Woods in his prime," Bobby Farrell, the proud grandson, said from his shop where he is head professional of facing Jones, who won 13 majors. In 1930, Jones became the only golfer to win in a season the four tournaments that were considered the Grand Slam of his day, the U.S. and British Opens and Amateurs. “No one thought anyone could beat Jones in a 36-hole playoff.”
It's ironic that beginning this year, in the event of a tie, the U.S. Golf Association, the last holdout to require an 18-hole playoff to determine a champion, instituted a two-hole aggregate playoff.
Ninety years ago – after Tommy Armour’s 1927 playoff victory – the USGA concluded that 18 holes wouldn’t suffice to identify the game's best player. Farrell and Jones played 36 holes in one day. On the back of four straight birdies to round out the opening 18 holes, Farrell signed for 70 and led Jones by three strokes. But it didn't last long. All of two holes, in fact. A steady rain began to fall in what became a back-and-forth affair. Jones was his most dangerous when his back was against the wall, and he made birdie on the final two holes in a valiant effort to catch Farrell. He faced an 8-foot birdie putt at the 36th hole of the match to win. If Farrell missed, they would have to play another 36 holes to settle it. He backed off once due to a photographer's flash. Then a bolt of lightning flashed in the sky just as Farrell buried the putt for the victory, and a 73 on the second 18. Gene Sarazen, Farrell’s best friend, and four other players carried the winner off the 18th green on their shoulders. Video of the award ceremony shows Farrell playfully removing the top off the silver trophy and peaking inside.
"Mere words will never be able to adequately describe the battle that was waged between Johnny Farrell and Bobby Jones," one local columnist wrote.
That was the highlight-reel moment for Farrell, but his was the quintessential life lived in full. The son of Irish immigrants, Farrell took up the game in the caddie yards of Westchester County, N.Y., and learned the game at the foot of Jerry Travers, the four-time U.S. Amateur champion and winner of the 1915 U.S. Open. Farrell was a clotheshorse, tagged "Handsome Johnny" by sportswriter Grantland Rice, and a frequent winner of the tour's best-dressed award, which paid better than the $500 first-place check at the U.S. Open.
Farrell played in the first Masters, on the first three Ryder Cup tournaments, and is credited with 22 PGA Tour victories, tied with Raymond Floyd on the all-time list. In 1927, he won – depending on the source and what tournaments are considered "official wins" – six to eight tournaments in a row, a feat that stood until Byron Nelson peeled off 11 straight in 1941.
Farrell was inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame in 1953. For some odd reason, he was among a group of hall members not transferred when the PGA Hall of Fame merged with the World Golf Hall of Fame, and remains on the outside looking in.
In 1934, Farrell, who had married a few years earlier, accepted a position as head professional at Baltusrol Golf Club, a post he held for 38 years. He became the Butch Harmon of his era, teaching the Duke of Windsor, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, multiple U.S. presidents and celebrated athletes such as Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. He also passed along a love of the game to his five children. Johnny Jr. was a top-flight amateur, and Bobby's father, Billy, was the head professional at The Stanwich Club in Greenwich for 37 years, competing in eight U.S. Opens and seven PGA Championships. In 1966, the Farrells were named Golf Family of the Year by the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association. Grandson Bobby, who has been the head professional at Tamarack for 16 years, remembers being assigned to watch the ball for his grandfather after his eyesight failed him in his later years.
“One of my favorite memories is walking into the kitchen at 5 o’clock in the morning and seeing my grandfather in the dark making some mock practice swings while humming the tune to the “Merry Widow Waltz,” a song he always kept his rhythm to,” Bobby Farrell said. “Later that afternoon, I met him up at the club for a bunker lesson. I can still hear him telling me to drop the club in with the rhythm, and to ‘spank the sand,’ a quote I still use when teaching my members today.”
Bobby often wonders whether the “Merry Widow Waltz” helped his grandfather beat Jones on that fateful day in 1928. It is an accomplishment that is largely forgotten these days, though when the 2003 U.S. Open returned to Olympia Fields, the USGA honored Farrell by including his image on tickets. In 1988, Farrell died at his home after suffering a stroke at 87. What would Bobby's grandfather make of this new era of a two-hole playoff?
"I don't think he would like it," Bobby said. "He needed all 36 holes to join the ‘I Beat Bobby Jones’ club."
And that alone was a major achievement.
Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @adamschupak
INTERVIEW with Matt Ward
Courtesy of Golf Content Network
THE FARRELL STORY —
Named Tamarack’s Head Professional in 2003, a position he has held for the past 15 years. In 2016, Bobby was elected into the Quarter Century Club of the PGA of America for his 25 years of numerous contributions and services. Before taking up his position at Tamarack, Bobby spent two decades working for his father at The Stanwich Club where he developed a reputation as the consummate club professional.
Later, as Stanwich’s Director of Golf Instruction, Bobby attracted a huge number of students, developed the club’s junior golf sports camp program, and created an indoor training center. His teaching skills and personality resonated with golfers of all ages, making him a popular and valued member of the Stanwich professional team. In 1991, Bobby was elected a Class A PGA professional.
Farrell hails from an impressive family golf pedigree. His grandfather was the legendary Johnny Farrell — best known for his 1928 U.S. Open victory in an epic 36-hole playoff against Bobby Jones. Johnny also won 25 professional golf tournaments — including eight in a row — played on the first three Ryder Cup teams, and when he retired from competitive golf spent 38 years as Baltusrol’s Head Golf Professional. Bobby’s father, Billy Farrell, also recorded a distinguished playing career. Billy qualified eight times for the U.S. Open and six times for the PGA Championship. He was The Stanwich Club’s first Head Professional and served the membership for 36 years.
Farrell with Jones in Chicago (Courtesy of American Golfer)
This year marks the 90th anniversary of your grandfather’s epic victory over the legendary Bobby Jones at Olympia Fields in the 1928 US Open. What special memory of your grandfather comes immediately to mind?
One of my favorite memories is walking into the kitchen at 5 o’clock in the morning, and seeing my grandfather in the dark making some mock practice swings while humming the tune to The Mary Widow Waltz, a song he always kept his rhythm to. When he saw me, he commented how great it was that I was up early, heading up to the club to practice. I replied, “Thanks Grandpa! I will be up later in the afternoon for the golf lesson.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was just getting home from a night on the town. Later that afternoon, I met him up at the club for a bunker lesson. I can still hear him telling me to drop the club in with the rhythm, and to “spank the sand,” a quote I still use when teaching my members today.
The USGA has decided to change the format in deciding ties. No longer will there be an 18-hole playoff following 72 holes. Instead a two-hole format will be used. When your grandfather won — he had to go an extra 36-holes to finally win by one over Jones. What do you think he would say about the new format?
I don’t believe he would like the new two-hole format. Johnny needed all 36 holes to beat Bobby Jones. He birdied the last three holes to win by one shot. In the late 1920’s, the playoff format was changed from 18 holes to 36 holes. The 1928 US Open was the first to use the 36-hole playoff. Back in those days, they played the final 36 holes of regular play on Saturday with any playoffs taking place on Sunday. I think he would understand the new change, and why we do it in today’s game but he would prefer an 18-hole playoff.
Your grandfather started in golf as a caddie and then turned professional in 1922. Was there any enduring story that he shared with you about his early playing days?
One story that comes to mind is how he met my Grandmother at an exhibition match. It was being played at the Innis Arden Club in Greenwich CT in 1930. As the story goes, there was a very attractive young blonde in the gallery and he purposely chipped his ball across the green toward her, with the ball rolling to a stop at her feet. As fate would have it, they struck up a conversation and became fast friends. They were married the following year.
Your grandfather also played with a wide range of high profile luminaires. Was there one specific person he believed stood above all others?
Later in his life, he was known as the teacher of U.S. Presidents including Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and Ford as well as such celebrities as Bob Hope and Ed Sullivan. The one person he spoke most about teaching and playing with was the Duke of Windsor.
If you were not in golf — what profession would you likely have been interested in doing
I can’t imagine myself being in any other profession. I started caddying when I was 12 years old and have been in the golf business ever since. If I was not a PGA professional I am sure I would have been doing something else in the golf industry.
What do you think your grandfather would think of what modern golf is about today and the impact Tiger Woods has had on the game?
He would love the modern technology of today, after Johnny finished playing the tour and settled down at Baltusrol, he became one of the top instructors in the country. He made 4 instructional videos, using state of the art cameras and technology. He also hosted the very first golf instruction TV show called, Swing Into Sports. He also endorsed and played with the first metal wood made in 1927. I have old pictures of Johnny working out with Gene Sarazen at McSorley’s Gym in New York so I know he would appreciate the fitness and strength that Tiger Woods has brought to the game.
Hagen with trophy – 1927 (Courtesy of American Golfer)
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
I’d mandate the overall acceptable time it takes to play a round of casual golf from 4 hours down to 3.5 hours. Over time, players would figure out how to play in 3.5 hours. I believe we lose a lot of players today because of the amount of time it takes to play golf.
You’re the head golf professional at Tamarack Country Club in Greenwich, CT. What’s the key attribute someone in your position must have to succeed long term?
I would say, first and foremost, I am here to inspire the members to become better players. I must be a great listener and understand what they need to do to achieve that goal while also enjoying the game. I have worked very hard during my career to surround myself with the best PGA professional staff that has the same love and respect for the game and as I.
The major golf organizations — USGA, R&A, PGA TOUR, PGA of America, LPGA — are all seeking ways to attract new players. This is especially with Millennials, women and minorities. If you were advising them what would you suggest be done?
Simplify the rules and speed up the pace of game. New players do not always have the time to dedicate hours to golf. Making the rules simpler and easy to understand may attract new golfers to the sport. I would continue to grow the PGA Junior League and the drive Chip and Putt contest by introducing these programs into the local public schools. Each elementary school should have their own Junior League Team giving kids that may not be members of private clubs a chance to participate and learn about the game. I love the idea of Top Golf and what it is bringing to the game especially with Millennials.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
My Dad said everyone’s going to make mistakes. It’s not about the mistakes you make, but how you correct them, and learn from them.
*Featured photo of Johnny Farrell Courtesy of American Golfer
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